Coffee. Just saying the word is alluring enough. But my experience has been that different coffeehouses call out to different types of coffee drinkers. Some seem to appeal to the hipster persona, others to a more traditional crowd. Though all shades of fads might be present at any given coffeehouse, rarely will the venue speak beyond any single one in a meaningful way.
And that’s the first thing I noticed when walking into Firefly Coffeehouse in downtown Oregon. It feels like the place everyone wants to go to. Whether looking for the more relaxed feeling of a lounge, the studious air of a library, the artistic bravado of a gallery, or a family-friendly nook, every patron finds a home somewhere in the 5,000 square feet of space adorned with comfy leather furniture, high-top bar tables, local artwork hanging on the walls, and a colorful kids area.
“We have seating for 120, and we are full most of the time,” says Jeanne Carpenter, village president of Oregon, substantiated cheese geek, former food writer for Madison Essentials, and co-owner of Firefly Coffeehouse with husband Uriah. “During the weekdays, we serve 100 lunches and 75 breakfasts. … We serve as much or more food as we do coffee.”
Though Firefly’s success might get a little help from their pristine downtown location, a large degree of credit belongs to the food. Avery Carpenter, health and wellness guru and Firefly’s baker exemplar, says “I’m really passionate about whole food ingredients and healthy ingredients. Using the best ingredients possible. … I wouldn’t put stuff that’s not in season on our menu.” Jeanne adds, “You’re never going to see a Sysco truck in the back of the Firefly.”
Local farmers, 17 sources and counting, are Jeanne’s go-to for most anything in the coffeehouse that isn’t coffee. As a result, she can tell you exactly where each ingredient came from in any of her menu items, chockful of vegan and gluten-free options. Take the McFly, two sausage patties from Jones Dairy Farm, a big slab of Hook’s one-year cheddar bought direct from Tony Hook, and a cage-free egg on an English muffin. “Over the course of a weekend, we’ll sell 125 of them,” Jeanne says. “And people will say, ‘This tastes how food used to taste.’ … I’m a foodie. I grew up on a farm in Wisconsin, where we grew our food and we had our own animals.” If it’s not authentic, it’s not served at Firefly, as Jeanne refuses to treat her customers the same way her college cafeteria treated her.
Jeanne says, “The vision is to build fiercely loyal customers.” And to do that, she and Uriah have a game plan for Firefly. “December 1 was the two-year mark of our ownership, and when we purchased, we were committed to investing in three things: first was our employees, second was new equipment and upgrades to the building, and third was investing in the menu and the espresso.
“On day one, we bumped all of our full-time employees up to $14 an hour (all now average at least $15 an hour) because we’re committed to paying a living wage, which means all of those folks quit their second jobs. What that means is I now have the best eight hours of those six people. … I’m looking at the people working right now. Maddie’s on the espresso machine. She knows all these people’s names.” Jeanne gestures to the fast-moving line. “She’s communicating with them. She’s asking about their dogs, how their vacation went because she knows where they went on vacation. My manager, Rachael, knows everybody’s kids because she has a four-year-old.”
Jeanne investing in her employees translates to her employees investing in Firefly’s customers. Having spent a lot of money getting the building up to code and improving the kitchen’s overall efficiency, and also continually investing in high-quality ingredients, means having a strong foundation to spurn future growth in whatever form it might take. “One-hundred percent of our profit is reinvested into the business and the employees because that’s how you grow a business,” says Jeanne. In fact, Jeanne has yet to draw a salary, though she hopes she’ll be able to at the end of year three.
But solidifying Firefly’s presence in Oregon isn’t just about a salary. As the village president, Jeanne is very aware of the benefits to the community through her efforts to improve her employees’ lives. “A new initiative we [Firefly] just rolled out for people working more than 30 hours a week here is that if they want to live in Oregon, we pay them $150 a month toward rent.” It’s another way to integrate her employees into Oregon.
She recalls last year’s winter. “During the polar vortex, my husband actually drove around and picked up employees. Their cars wouldn’t start because they were living in super crappy apartments and their cars were all parked outside. … That’s not going to be a problem this winter because four of my employees now live within walking distance.” Jeanne uses Firefly as a voice to other local businesses, saying, “It’s worth investing in your employees because it pays off so much in dividends.”
In addition to fresh paninis, sandwiches, wraps, salads, and cheese boards, Firefly Coffeehouse carries two of Wisconsin’s finest coffee brands: Kickapoo Coffee in Viroqua and Anodyne Coffee in the Walker’s Point neighborhood of Milwaukee. “They totally complement each other in the styles of single origins that they roast,” says Jeanne. “We’re using high-end espresso.” And they’ve hired top-notch baristas.
Nearly every person who visits Firefly Coffeehouse doesn’t have to try too hard to find a reason to return. As Avery puts it, “You don’t have to be a diehard vegan to enjoy a slice of vegan banana bread.” Customers who come to Firefly are not just investing in Jeanne’s vision. They’re investing in living wages, sustainable agricultural practices, and even the village of Oregon itself. As a bonus, they get some of the best coffee, local food, and fresh-daily bakery items the state has to offer.
Kyle Jacobson is a copy editor for Madison Essentials, and a writer and beer enthusiast (sometimes all at once) living in Sun Prairie.
114 N. Main Street
Oregon, WI 53575